Welcome to the Unpredictable Era of Editing Human Embryos – Facts So Romantic

Headlines and apocalyptic notions about designer babies proliferated last month after Chinese scientists published the results of a curious set of experiments on human embryos. The researchers were looking to understand whether gene-editing technology could correct, before birth, a malformed gene that can cause a potentially devastating blood disease. They found that the method introduced new errors and failed to fix the problem consistently within embryos, suggesting that both cures for genetic diseases and designer babies remain a ways off. But it did provide a moment to think about the unintentional experiments we will be running as we look to repair errors in our genomes.

As scientists fill in the picture of how our genes are connected to the functioning of our bodies, little by little, what we are seeing is a ramifying web, or tree, of connections. Genes we used to think were expressed in only one tissue are turning up all over the body—smell-receptor genes are expressed in the kidney and bitter receptors in the sinuses, for example, and what they’re doing there is only slightly related to what they do in the nose and the mouth. Liver proteins that you’d think would have…

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